At the core of every successful project is careful planning and a solid foundation. In website development, creating a website requirements document is a crucial step. A well-crafted website requirements document works similarly to a blueprint. It does not ensure the project’s success but guarantees that the idea is on paper. It ensures effective communication, minimizes misunderstanding, and reduces the need for revisions.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of a website requirements document and what you should include in the document.
What is Included in a Website Requirements Document?
The very first of every website requirements document is an overview. It provides a brief summary of the project, its purpose, goals, and the target audience. The section should focus on introducing your company (especially if you’re working with an external team), explaining the problem (and how the website will solve it), and providing a high-level overview of the requirements, and your target audience.
In every project, a group or several groups of people come together to make it a reality. These teams are made up of decision-makers and contributors. The names, job titles, and contact information of these stakeholders should be included in this section. It helps developers know who to contact and how to reach the right person in time. Here’s an example of what you should include:
Goals and Objectives
The next big step in creating your website requirements document is to outline your goals and objectives. What makes this section important is that it helps the developer understands the idea and intent behind the website. The goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART). Here’s an example of a SMART goal:
- To increase newsletter signups by 15% by the end of the fiscal year.
- To get 100K new Instagram followers within six months.
User Personas and Stories
A business owner knows their target market, but the web developer doesn’t. You need to ensure that you define user personas along with the features (user stories) for each of your prospective customers in this section. The personas and features are generally provided by the project owner. According to HubSpot, marketing personas make websites 2-5 times easier to use and more effective for targeted users. For larger projects especially, personas and user stories are unavoidable.
Phases and Milestones
Defining the phases may not be important for all projects, but it’s important in large projects. Breaking the project down into distinct phases helps makes the overall project more realistic and deliverable.
It’s important to note that not all websites need to be delivered in phases. In the following example, we’ve divided a project into three phases only because it requires adding an eCommerce platform and CRM integration, which can be delivered later. This way, the client can promote and user-test their website while you work on the advanced features.
- Phase 1 – basic web build
- Phase 2 – eCommerce platform addition
- Phase 3: CRM integration
Regardless of the size and type of the project, the “B word” can never be ignored. The project’s budget should be outlined at the beginning of the project. Even if you don’t have a big budget, it’s best to be upfront about it. That way, agencies can usually suggest a more budget-friendly solution for your needs. However, it’s important to remember that you may need to make some compromises to keep the project within the designated budget.
Content and Site Structure
The section explains the content structure, also known as the Information Architecture (IA) of the website. Generally, the site structure goes as follows:
The site map depicts a tree-like (hierarchical) structure with branches. It shows where and how each page will be located on the website. The best way to create a sitemap is by following your user journey and improving their experience. The project owner and project manager generally work on the sitemap together.
The page templates define the layout and the high-level look and feel of a web page. You can include page templates for different types of content on this page. For example, Home, Blog post, and Contact Us page templates.
Types of Content
Every website contains different types of content such as blog posts, people, products, and testimonials. At the very least, there are two types of content, Web page content that is timeless (for example, a Contact Us page) and post content that is chronological (for example, a blog post or news).
Website taxonomy also known as URL taxonomy is a great way to structure your website and provide a better user experience. A well-structured website is like a well-organized house, it just makes sense! A taxonomy makes your website easy to navigate, which is not only attractive to visitors, but also to search engineers.
Here’s an example, if you have a website dedicated to cooking and recipes, then you could have a taxonomy of ‘meals’ under which terms like breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch can go. In blogs, the most common taxonomies are tags (hierarchical) and categories (non-hierarchical).
Design and Branding
Design is also an important consideration when developing a website, but you’re not always responsible for designing the website. Clients often come with readymade designs and you just work on the development part. So, the content of this section depends on whether the website design exists or not.
Design is Ready
Add a reference here if the website design is already completed and any design specifications provided by the client.
Design as Part of the Project
If website design is also part of the project, then list the client’s guidelines and preferences for design and branding in this section. Here are a few things you can provide to make the design process seamless.
- Brand guidelines
- Competitor analysis
- Design example (likes and dislikes)
- Print materials
Website functionality tells you exactly how various parts work. This section is where you outline the third-party integrations like showing a feed of the latest tweets on your website.
Here are a few technical requirements that should be mentioned in the website requirements document:
- E-commerce functionality including payment gateways, shipping cart, and stock checker
- SSL certification and how it should be implemented
- Multilingual capabilities
- Social media integrations
- Analytics and tracking
- Website responsiveness
- User roles and capabilities
The non-functional requirements are just as important as the functional requirements. While The specifics may differ, here are a few things you should list in this section.
- Page load speed
- Browser and devices
- Maintenance and support
In website development, quite a few things are simply assumed but those assumptions may be different in different companies. So, list everything that you assumed will be done with the project to avoid any confusion.
- Design and layout
- Support and maintenance
Why is the Website Requirements Document Important?
The presence of a website Requirements Document does not guarantee project completion. It simply ensures that you have a plan of action. Without understanding your requirements and features, no one can guarantee that the project will stay within your timeline and budget. The document is generally put together by the project manager, project owner, business analyst, designer, and developer.
While it does not seem like a big deal, skipping a website’s requirements document can have several negative consequences. We’ll explore a few examples where the absence of a website requirements document leads to negative consequences.
- Chaotic Redesign: skipping the website requirements means that the development started working on the website based on assumptions. Not only did that result in missing important functionalities but the client was also disappointed and frustrated and the project was delayed.
- Mismatched User Expectations: if user personas and stories are not defined properly, then the website will fail to provide a user-friendly experience. How are you supposed to provide a great experience to people you don’t even know, let alone understand? This can lead to higher bounce rates and a loss in potential sales and the customers often lose trust in the brand.
- Security Breach: the security requirements are different for various websites. Not communicating the website security requirements adequately can leave it vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Hackers are always ready to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. In this scenario, the company can face serious legal and financial consequences including lawsuits, regulatory fines, and a damaged reputation.
- Endless Revisions: if there’s one thing that everyone hates, then it would have to be endless revisions. Skipping the requirements document means that you didn’t pay out everything, which means that there are going to be too many revisions. And even if the end product is great, endless revisions are neither efficient nor proper.
A website requirements document is a step that should never be overlooked or skipped. Investing time and effort in creating a requirements document can save tens of hours in misunderstanding and unnecessary revisions. However, remember that you don’t create a website requirements document once. Rather it’s a living document that continues to evolve throughout the development cycle. Over time, you need to review and update it as necessary and keep all stakeholders informed and aligned.